I did have doubts. To begin with, I did. I wondered about the ethics of it. In fact, that was my first thought, when I realised that the technology was available, and how easily I could turn it to such a purpose; my very first thought was, “I can’t.”
It couldn’t be right to do it. There was no justification. And, my mind added, it probably wouldn’t work anyway. It seems like it would; but something would be bound to go wrong. The encoding would fail; the transmission would be blocked by something; the replication would falter after a few iterations.
I can’t say I noticed at the time how quickly the ethical objections receded when I had technical ones to concentrate on. I’ve had that pointed out to me since, and I think I’ve learned from it. But those technical challenges, they were what lined themselves up in my mind, and the more I thought about them, the more I found the problem of their solution intrigued me.
Sure enough, as time went on, those technical barriers fell. I knew how to embed the coding. I knew how transmission would work; at least to an adequate level. The only thing I couldn’t resolve – at least at the time – was replication.
But one iteration was enough to serve as a test-bed. A proof of concept, if you like. And before I knew it, I had my first tiny batch ready for deployment. They were beautiful – even if I say it myself. Clumsy by today’s standards, but of course I have far greater resources available to me now.
Back then, all I had were six of the earliest model. Pips, I called them. They had no mobility then, and they were big enough that I could hold them in my palm and watch the light glint off them; like silvery grains of sugar. So primitive.
I admit, by then I was so excited by the technical aspects of it that the morality took something of a back seat. I had the pips. They still weren’t guaranteed to work – and since they weren’t replicating, they couldn’t do any real harm. If they failed, they’d just be flushed out, and no-one would be any worse off. And even if they did work, I didn’t have to use them. That was the point, of course: I would have complete control. It took a few hours, and a few drinks, but I finally convinced myself. It’d be a shame, I reasoned, to have come so far and not give it at least a try. Yes: I’d try it out. Purely for research purposes. I just had to pick a test subject.
I’d been friends with Lidia for years, ever since I started at the company. She’d joined not long before me, and we’d worked together on a number of projects. By now, she was leading a team over at the Tri site, but we got together a couple of times a week for coffee. It wasn’t much effort, then, to take my pips along to our next get-together, and upend the little plastic pot into her drink when she left the table for a few minutes. I wasn’t worried about my friend; I really wasn’t. Nothing could go wrong. Nothing would happen at all if I didn’t want it to. She wouldn’t be hurt. Worst case would be she’d reject the pips: they wouldn’t take hold and she’d just process them out without ever noticing they’d been there.
We had a really nice afternoon, and when I left Lidia I went straight home. I have to say I was quite surprised, when I logged into the control server, to find all six pips reporting a successful integration. I tried a couple of basic functions – nothing too complex, nothing too disruptive. The pips responded, remarkably, exactly as they were supposed to. And they seemed stable. I can’t deny I was impressed, and more than a little excited. In fact. I shut the link down that night feeling downright giddy. I couldn’t believe it had worked. I went to bed with possibilities rolling around in my mind. I think I must’ve woken up a dozen times that night; each time I’d scribble down a few notes, ideas on usage, adaptations, improvements. I filled six sheets of A4 with ideas and, all right, I admit that none of them addressed the ethical problems.
A few days later I ran into Lidia again and took the opportunity to query her, subtly, about how she’d felt that night. To explain my interest, I told her that I’d been ill, and was wondering if it had been something we’d both had at the coffee house. She told me she’d felt fine. So, I reasoned, there really was no harm done. If I wanted to, I could always signal the pips to disengage and shut down – but now there just didn’t seem to be any need. Lidia was fine; and it was always possible I might want to run more tests.
Over the next few months I worked on a new set of pips. I wondered whether I could refine the background coding to give the pips a particular default state – a condition they could apply all the time, even without external commands being issued. I wasn’t sure whether it would be fair to Lidia to use her again. I was pretty confident there’d be no harm done, but she’d already been my guinea pig. I needed a clean slate: if I introduced the new pips to the same subject I couldn’t be sure of a pure result. So this time I decided to take six of the new pips and introduce them to a randomly selected test subject, which I did at a local bar that Friday night.
The subject this time presented as male, and was roughly thirty years of age. He was confident in my presence and was paying little enough attention to his drink, so placing the pips was easy. He appeared to exhibit no negative effects and when I got home I checked the integration. Everything looked good, though one pip had failed to connect; but the other five were secure. Unfortunately, by dint of my selection methods, I had no way to see what effect the pips had in their default state as compared to his previous demeanour – but from the point of integration it looked as though he was adopting the manner that I’d designed. There was little physiological sign of heightened emotion; no anger or any other such negative impulse. I was pleased. Again, as with Lidia, I left his pips running. There seemed no benefit in switching them off.
That was where I started. Before long, I’d been able to add further functionality, and in fairly short order I found I could use the pips to transmit commands, as well as to pick up sensory information, and relay perceptions and memory. I had a problem with data storage, I admit: the information that could be accessed just from one person was tremendous. I developed some quite sophisticated filtering and compression software to reduce the load, but it wasn’t until I gained access to some significant development resources that I was able to really optimise. But the project didn’t really take off – pardon the pun – until I developed the fleck. This was a smaller, lighter pip shaped in such a way as to make it catch the air, move in the breeze. I ran a test of this new design by introducing a few thousand into the company ventilation system. I was amazed how many of them took. By the end of a week, all but five had been picked up and had integrated nicely. With the added interaction systems that I’d been able to add since, including a huge step in networking that enabled me to control the remote flecks via my own locally installed neural transceiver, I quickly had the entire resources of the company working without complaint on my project. A matter of weeks after that, my team and I had solved the issue of replication. From then on, integration of a new member of our community was simply a matter of integrating one fleck, which would then start work on producing and installing more. Once a given number of installed and operating flecks was reached, any further replication would go towards distribution to other potential project members.
By the time the project was released to the public, network members were each installed with several thousand flecks, and creating more for distribution. It took just under two weeks for the project to reach and accommodate 92.4% of the world’s population. I was learning a great deal, and I had assigned a large number of experts to work on the matter of information storage. I was going to lose some information – that was unavoidable. But with the dedicated help of my devoted storage team I would preserve or recover enough to keep the vast majority of human experience and knowledge safe and secure. Then it was just a matter of refining the communication relays, reducing corruption, noise and granularity of signals. With a new, global sense of unity there was now little need for conflict, and the resources of the world’s defence agencies were turned to development.
Sometimes I do wonder whether what I did was strictly right, by the standards of society as a whole. But then I look around me and see a world finally at peace. War and famine are things of the past. With the resources at my command, I’ve been able to make significant progress in disease treatment and prevention; and new power generation techniques have put limitless energy at our disposal. Humans no longer fight over oil, or gold; there are no more conflicts over belief or identity. Everyone is now, truly, equal. That was all I wanted, right at the start. I wanted everyone to want peace, as I did – not to fight over trivia. And now, I have achieved that. Thanks to my flecks, everyone sees things the way I do, and I honestly think that’s for the best. If I didn’t think that, I’d never have done any of this.
So no, I don’t have any qualms now. I’ve learned to see the big picture – to look beyond the limiting ethical model I was brought up with. That really just held me down. But nothing will hold me down now. I have saved our species. I have brought hope to billions who would otherwise never have felt it. Now we work as one. We are a unity. We look to the skies and to other stars and other worlds, and we know that, soon, we will take our first steps out there, and spread our peace and harmony into the heavens.